“You have a superpower,” a seven-year-old Todd Ackerman’s mom said to him. “Right now, it’s a spark inside you that’s just starting to burn brightly.”
Ackerman, who’s now a senior risk management executive at U.S. Bank, could barely contain himself. Would this spark be the answer to his prayers – he was really able to control minds or turn invisible?
“Your power and the spark is that you’ll love differently,” his mom said. “You’ll love, when people tell you that you shouldn’t. You’ll love, when people are mean and try to hurt you. But that won’t stop you from loving.”
“I didn’t fully embrace the idea at the time,” Ackerman recalled. “I was disappointed she wasn’t talking about mind-reading, and it took some convincing for me to think this was a real superpower.”
He continued, “And, like so many, I allowed my spark to dim for 33 years after that conversation – but I never forgot my mom’s message.”
During that dark time, Ackerman endured depression, physical attacks, abusive relationships and intense loneliness. Although he was out as a gay man in his personal life, he remained closeted at work – fueled partly because of the discrimination he faced early in his career at another financial institution.
“I didn’t have pictures of my family in my office. I left the stock photos in the picture frames,” he said. “I didn’t correct people when they asked about ‘my girlfriend.’ I was lying at work every day, and was also denying my now-husband, then-partner, by not acknowledging him. It was stupid, but this was more than a decade ago and people were still telling gay jokes. I was scared.”
Then, one day a member of his team called a one-on-one. “I thought it was weird he scheduled time, since he would normally just walk into my office,” said Ackerman. “I thought he was going to resign.”
Instead, his employee voiced concern that Ackerman was hiding something. “He told me he cared about me and respected that my secret was mine for the telling,” said Ackerman. “He was there to support me. But I was losing my team by hiding myself from them. At that moment, for the first time, I saw everything so clearly. I said to him: ‘Fine, I’m gay, now get back to work.’ With that conversation, he gave me the second greatest gift I’ve ever received, after my mom’s spark conversation, and is still one of my closest friends to this day.”
Ackerman replaced his stock photos. “I began to mention my now-husband Andy by name and correct people when they assumed I had a girlfriend. I just started not hiding things anymore.”
Ackerman’s leaders were supportive of him being his authentic self at work. His immediate manager at the time sent him a thank-you card for being open and honest – a card Ackerman still has today.
Now, Ackerman serves on U.S. Bank’s Business Resource Group Board, representing Spectrum LGBTQ BRG. Ackerman is well-known for creating a safe space for employees to be authentic.
“Leadership is an attitude. It doesn’t come from the number of people reporting to you or even if anyone reports to you,” said Ackerman. “I hear from people who say, ‘I came out to my parents because of your blog,’ or, ‘I came out at work after hearing you talk at an event.’ While it freaks me out when I hear that, I am honored and confident that being authentic encourages other people to do the same.”
That authenticity helps sustain an inclusive culture at U.S. Bank. It’s a reason employees choose to work there, and why the company was recognized today as a 2020 Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality by the Human Rights Campaign for the 13th year.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is part of the culture and a business imperative at U.S. Bank. “Far too often, businesses focus their efforts on the wallet, and forget about the people behind those dollars,” said Steve Ducòs, U.S. Bank’s new LGBTQ strategy lead. “We are going to reach the hearts and minds of our customers by creating innovative solutions and programs that show we truly care about them.” Ducòs will put that philosophy into action this year as he continues work to resonate with, and meet the unique needs of, LGBTQ customers by developing customized products, services and experiences for the LGBTQ community.
“My generation is fortunate to have seen a lot of positive change for the LGBTQ community,” said Ackerman. “It’s good to take a breath and acknowledge that. But, we have to move from resting and hoping to action on topics like employment law and caring for our aging LGBTQ community. For younger people and those of us who are still active, it’s important to figure out what you’re passionate about and how you can serve. Service and authenticity is what really changes the world in ways you don’t realize.”
Written by Arielle Goldberg of U.S. Bank. The company earned the 2020 Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality designation from the HRC by receiving a perfect score on the 2020 Corporate Equality Index, which rates businesses on criteria including: non-discrimination policies, employment benefits, demonstrated organizational competency and accountability around LGBTQ diversity and inclusion, public commitment to LGBTQ equality and responsible citizenship.